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Return of the grumpy old guy

Watch out for falling mortars.

Item: A dispatch from the Associated Press on Saturday carried a sentence beginning, "Two mortars fell near the Foreign Ministry." And a quick Google on "mortars fell" turns up thousands of pieces of artillery dropping from the skies.

A mortar is a weapon. It fires shells. Mortar shells or mortar rounds arc through the air and explode. It doesn’t seem to be a lot to ask for news services to get this right.

Item: Over the weekend I excised a couple of references to athletes’ quest for "Olympic gold"

Olympic Gold, a quality semi-gloss interior enamel, available at Home Depot.  While "Olympic gold" is not the most irritating sports cliche, its emergence at intervals, like cicadas, annoys with its predictability.

Item: For those addicted to anniversary stories, which apparently includes every journalist in the United States, the war in Iraq poses a complication. The Associated Press writes that the anniversary of the start of the war is March 20, which was the date in Iraq. But the date was still March 19 in the United States, so our national/foreign desk has decided to consider March 19 the anniversary.

Not so sure here. We don’t say that the combined naval and air forces of the Empire of Japan attacked the United States naval base at Pearl Harbor in the Hawaiian Islands at lunchtime on Dec. 7, 1941, because that’s what time it was in Washington, D.C. The time events occur at the place where they occur is how we conventionally report. Admittedly, that damnable globular nature of the planet complicates things with time zones, but we ought to have figured out how to manage that by now.   

Item: A high school freshman has written (Who knew that anyone was reading these dispatches?) to inquire about the word nemesis. He had been through a category of “words from mythology” in a vocabulary workbook that defined nemesis as "(1. due punishment for evil deeds 2. one who inflicts such punishment (from Nemesis, goddess of vengeance)" And he asks, "Does modern use of nemesis, butchered by some sports analysts, stray from the word's original meaning?"

Oh, yes. The word has been completely trivialized. As recently as Agatha Christie's Nemesis, published about 35 years ago, it was possible for the author to play on the irony of an elderly British spinster, Miss Marple, as the agent of cosmic justice and retribution. Today, the word usually means some high school sports team.

But there may a more serious issue here. A high school freshman appears to be well advanced on the road that leads to becoming a cranky old guy.

Posted by John McIntyre at 12:18 PM | | Comments (3)


AHA! The torch will be carried!

(Or some other, non-sports-related, non-clichéd, less glib assurance that Grumpy Old Guydom is here to stay....)

: )

It is good to see that there are still young people with a good sense of language. I was under the impression that it had died with my generation (that being the X). Language may certainly change, yes, but people seem to have lost the desire to at least worry about something sounding terrible.

While we're excising references to athletes’ quests for "Olympic gold," let's take a look at "quest." My inner grumpy old guy is tired of ordinary pursuits (even noble ones) being labeled "quests" when they do not arise from the deprivation of some entitlement. The object of a quest is to recover or restore something, not merely to get it in the first place. (Or am I the one who is missing something?)

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About John McIntyre
John McIntyre, mild-mannered editor for a great metropolitan newspaper, has fussed over writers’ work, to sporadic expressions of gratitude, for thirty years. He is The Sun’s night content production manager and former head of its copy desk. He also teaches editing at Loyola University Maryland. A former president of the American Copy Editors Society, a native of Kentucky, a graduate of Michigan State and Syracuse, and a moderate prescriptivist, he writes about language, journalism, and arbitrarily chosen topics. If you are inspired by a spirit of contradiction, comment on the posts or write to him at
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